It’s the season opener on the gridiron in the Big Easy as one of the nation’s last remaining independent programs takes on a team from the AAC. The UMass Minutemen are on the road as they make the trip down to the bayou to face the Tulane Green Wave Saturday night. UMass finished last season 1-11 to clearly miss out on a bowl game, continuing their miserable play since their return to the FBS back in 2012. Tulane ended the 2021 campaign with a dismal 2-10 mark, snapping their run of bowl appearances at three. These programs have met just once as FBS opponents with the Green Wave taking a 31-24 road victory in that meeting on October 1, 2016.
UMass Minutemen Starting the Don Brown EraUMass put together a miserable 1-11 mark in 2021 as they continue to struggle at the FBS level. Walt Bell was fired with the team sitting 1-8 last season and finished his run at the school 3-23. He’s now the offensive coordinator at Indiana: in his stead is Don Brown, who was 43-19 coaching here from 2004-08, including an appearance in the FCS National Championship Game back in 2006, when they fell to Appalachian State. Brown inherits a team with low expectations and not a ton of talent returning. It’s going to be an uphill climb for the Minutemen again this season. They do bring back arguably their best offensive weapon but will it be enough to help them have any success on the field?
Last season, UMass was 123rd in passing offense with 152.7 yards per contest while they were 79th in rushing offense with 147.7 yards per game. The Minutemen finished tied for 126th in the FBS in scoring offense with an average of 16.3 points per game while they were a dismal 130th in scoring defense by allowing 43.1 points per contest. Brady Olson saw the most reps under center last season as he was 104 of 215 passing for 1,145 yards with eight touchdowns against seven interceptions on the year while adding 28 yards on the ground. Garrett Dzuro (23 of 47, 246 yards, two TD, three INT, 139 rushing yards) and Zamar Wise (six of nine, 22 yards, 136 rushing yards, TD) are also back and in the mix. Ellis Merriweather is the team’s top offensive weapon. He finished last season with 218 carries for 1,138 yards and five scores. Kay’Ron Adams (39 carries, 114 yards, TD) is the second back in the system. Rico Arnold led the team with 27 receptions for 461 yards plus three scores. Melvin Hill (12 receptions, 171 yards, TD), tight end Josiah Johnson (11 catches, 115 yards, three TD) and Merriweather (22 grabs, 165 yards, TD) are other secondary options when the Minutemen go to the air. Cameron Carson hit 22 of 24 extra point attempts and knocked through eight of 11 field goal attempts on the year with a long of 45.
Tulane Green Wave Hoping to Rebound in 2022Tulane had three straight bowl appearances from 2018 through 2020 before the wheels came off last season. The Green Wave ended 2021 with a dismal 2-10 record and went only 1-7 in the AAC. The hope for coach Willie Fritz and the program is that they turn things around this season. On the plus side, Tulane brings back seven starters on the offensive side, including their starting quarterback and four offensive linemen. The flip side of that coin is the unproven wide receiver corps and a defense that struggled to get off the field with any kind of consistency is going to have to take a couple of steps forward if they hope to return to a .500-type of team.
Last season, the Green Wave was tied for 74th in the nation in passing offense with 224.8 yards per game through the air and 60th in rushing offense with 164.8 yards per contest on the ground. Tulane is tied for 74th in the FBS in scoring offense with an average of 27.6 points per game while they are tied for 114th in scoring defense by allowing 34 points per contest. Michael Pratt was 189 of 328 for 2,381 yards with 21 touchdowns against eight interceptions. He added 152 yards plus five scores on the ground last season. Justin Ibieta was 13 of 22 for 166 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions while contributing 57 yards plus a score on the ground. The run game is led by Tyjae Spears, who finished with 129 carries for 863 yards and nine touchdowns. Cameron Carroll (111 carries, 516 yards, three TD) and Iverson Celestine (20 carries, 111 yards) are also in the mix. Shae Wyatt is the team’s top returning receiver with 33 catches for 376 yards and three scores last year. Tight end Tyrick James (31 grabs, 429 yards, four TD), Duece Watts (21 catches, 331 yards, three TD), Jha’Quan Jackson (17 receptions, 294 yards, TD) and Phat Watts (18 catches, 224 yards, two TD) are good secondary options. Graham Dable was three of three on extra points and zero for two on field goal attempts last season but is expected to get the starting kicking job.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
Both teams had miserable campaigns last season as they went a combined 3-21 in the 2021 season. The problem for UMass is that it’s been a decade-long trend since returning to the FBS level. UMass has gone 20-91 since coming back to the FBS level of competition and they haven’t won more than four games in a year. They are 2-26 in the last three seasons combined. Tulane, for their struggles last season, still has capable weapons to work with and they were at least semi-competent on the offensive side of the ball. With Spears healthy and Pratt running the offense against a UMass defense that was worst in the nation in scoring defense, you have to think this one is a rout in favor of the Green Wave.
Full-Game Total Pick
UMass finished last season having seen the over post a 7-5 record in their 12 contests. The lone game that the Minutemen won fell under the total as well as they combined with UConn in the Toilet Bowl for 40 points against a number of 56.5 points. UMass gave up at least 33 points in every loss and at least 42 points in eight of their 11 defeats last season. Tulane saw the over post a similar 7-5 mark on the year in 2021. Six of their first seven games went over the number before four straight unders came up on the board. The Green Wave went over the mark in their season finale in the loss to Memphis. With UMass being brutal defensively, the potential for a big offensive showing for Tulane is here. Lean toward the over in this contest.